Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake

I remember when I was little, my mother would make steamed sponge cake on important days. By important days, I meant days that the Chinese would celebrate according to their beliefs and traditions. The upcoming festival is Qingming where the Chinese would visit the burials of their ancestors.  In some families including mines, steamed sponge cake or some kind of cake is a must. The ingredients to make a sponge cake is fairly simple:

6 eggs

1 cup of flour

1 cup of sugar

However, the METHOD is the key. Back when I was little about 7-8 years old, I rarely had steamed cake that are fluffy with smooth texture, more often it was hard like a rock with uneven top. I remember when I was helping my mother make those cake, she would tell me to beat the eggs until there’s bubbles and it WILL take a long time. Back then, we don’t have any electric egg beater, all we had was chopsticks. After beating the eggs for 30 minutes with a sore arm, I saw bubbles forming over the top layer and excitedly thought it was ready. Little did I know, it was nowhere ready, which I found out recently.  Obviously, the resulting cake was just the opposite of what was expected. I kept thinking what went wrong; there were only 3 ingredients, how can that happen? We were later introduced to the easy commercial cake mix which cut down time and energy by half. We later phased out the steamed sponge cake for the cake mix.

When I start baking from scratch in my early twenties, I try to venture different recipes from different bakers.  Never had I stop and try the one where I first started and fell. Until one day my aunt call my mother over the phone that she made some sponge cake and she claimed it look so good.  Mom told me the method that my aunt used with the same old recipe: beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy and then mixed the flour. We were skeptical at first since we made sponge cake by beating the whites until fluffy and separately combined the flour and egg yolk before folding both the egg whites and the flour mixture together. In the end, we gave it a try. With the same method as my aunt instructed and relayed from my mom to me, the cake turned out flat. Bakers are definitely no quitters! Unsatisfied, my mom called my aunt again to make sure there’s no missing steps or making sure how “good” was my aunt’s cake claims to be. It took like 5-6 calls before we learn aunt uses her hand to mix in the flour as opposed a electric beater in our case. That all make sense! We over beat the batter, that was why the cake was flat. The second batch, we fold in the flour. Sadly, that failed too since I guess we were so scared of over mixing it. This time, it turns out the batter was UNDER mixed as there were spots of raw flours in the cake. Well, thirds a charm! We gave it a try for the third time. First was over mixed, second was under mixed, this time was just right.  You learn from your own mistakes whether it’s big or small, the most important thing is to acknowledge them and correct them. Also to never give up along the journey.

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